Covid-19 will rebalance the job market, but…
As we slowly emerge from total lockdown, businesses are assessing the impact on their employment needs in the Covid-19 economy. For some, that has meant redundancies have been announced, never a pleasant step to take for an employer but devastating for an employee. Some will take the opportunity to gain new skills and re-enter the job market; others will find a new employer with a stronger order book, or with the companies that find they are better aligned to a Covid economy. In the long run, the adjustments will rebalance the pattern of work.
But meantime we are continuing to have school-leavers and graduates entering the job market for the first time – and what a time.

…new entrants are still essential, but…
But whilst it is difficult for firms to balance the hiring of new staff at a time when redundancies are being managed, and HR departments are overstretched, experience has shown that those firms who press the pause button on recruiting their graduate and apprentice cohorts will suffer as the gap in their employee profile creates difficulties in succession planning in years to come.

…some companies are short-sighted
Firms should also think carefully about the impact on young and impressionable people if they renege on offers of employment already made. This practice is happening now, and whilst it may be legally defensible, it is highly questionable ethically. Imagine the impact on a young graduate after four or five years of study, who has secured a job six months ago, perhaps moved to the new location ready to start, and then receives the bad news a month before the start date. Their trust in the industry and career path they had set their hearts on has been destroyed.

Another questionable practice is also emerging – deferring the start date of those who already have job offers and contracts of employment, with no specific revised starting date. This sends a signal that the company is arrogant enough to believe that the graduate will still join them despite being told to pay their own way through life for an unspecified period. For the sake of a few months’ (presumably) savings of a graduate salary, the damage done to that young individual will be long-lasting, and any loyalty to the company has been blown away. Perhaps that is the intent and they hope the graduate goes elsewhere despite the signed contract of employment. If that is the hidden agenda, it is even more ethically reprehensible.

We need to take the long view
Setting aside the personal impact, the long-term losers in these scenarios are the companies concerned. Word will filter back to potential recruits in future years – student communication networks are powerful. Those at the wrong end of such behaviour may use social media to share their experience, and who would blame them? And the most important loss to the company is the loss of their next generation of leaders.

These policies where applied, unthinkingly, are across the board – so all the hard work to get gender and ethnic minority balance into the recruitment of young engineers is also undermined at a stroke.

A few days ago, the government and Construction Leadership Council launched the Construction Talent Retention Scheme to try to place as many displaced persons in this turmoil. That’s commendable, but let’s not forget the graduates and apprentices who thought they had a place, only to be let down by their employer before even getting a chance to show their worth.

So, my plea to employers is to honour your commitments, play fair by your young future leaders, and take the long view for your own benefit. We are in fragile times. The last thing we need is disaffection and disillusionment in our 2020 graduates and apprentices, the very groups we need to be the most motivated to create a better future.

Professor Gordon Masterton
Master, The Worshipful Company of Engineers